Civil Liberties

Recording Abusive Border Patrol Conduct Becomes a Thing Among Fed-Up Americans

Internal checkpoints drive peaceful citizens to assert their rights and share the results


Border Patrol agents' bad behavior—not just at the international boundary but at checkpoints as much as 100 court-endorsed miles away within the "Constitution-free zone"—is easy to document both because it's so damned common, and because of the willingness of some brave souls to record their encounters and post the results online. Terry Bressi, a University of Arizona staff engineer, is something of a pioneer in the field of documenting encounters with armed and abusive federal agents. When Reason TV interviewed him in 2013, he'd already recorded over 300 such meet-and-greets. Maybe his example inspired others, or perhaps the impossibility of transiting many roads and communities, especially in the Southwest, without being stopped by Border Patrol made responses inevitable. The Houston Chronicle reports that there's a growing surge of Americans recording themselves asserting their rights to ill-behaved federal thugs.

Writes the Chronicle's Dane Schiller:

Some of the travelers appear to be making a stand for what they say are their rights and contend that the government, which has long drawn support for doing whatever is needed to protect the nation's borders, is going too far.

Determining how widespread the videotaping has become is difficult to determine, but they are well-known among border activists, academics, lawyers and law-enforcement officers from Texas to California. Hundreds of such videos are posted online, and they are drawing millions of viewers.

"Some of the travelers" are standing for their rights? Well, others may be sticking it to Border Patrol for shits and giggles, including the guy who sped his way through a checkpoint by wielding a Bible and offering to save the agent's soul. Remember that tactic. It could be handy.

But asserting your rights to refuse searches and ignore unreasonable questions at the checkpoints can be dangerous—and painful. Greg Rosenberg was held for 19 days last year without charges after bristling at Soviet-style treatment (he's a naturalized citizen who suffered under the communists in Armenia) at a South Texas checkpoint. He was held after refusing to concede that he was in the wrong

His case is hardly isolated. Schiller discusses the case of Thomas Sauer, a long-haul trucker like Rosenberg, who was dragged from his vehicle after he failed to bow down to Border Patrol agents. He also was not charged.

Others have faced prison time after driving away or resisting a beat-down by the uniformed agents.

Border Patrol conduct can be even worse away from the observing eyes at a checkpoint. Clarisa Christiansen says a roving patrol slashed her car tires and left her and her children stranded by the side of the road after she refused consent to a search. She's represented in her complaint by the ACLU of Arizona.

Even among other federal agencies, the Border Patrol has acquired a lousy reputation. Last year, Politico's Garett M. Graff reported that problems exploded after the hysteria-fueled expansion of Customs and Border Protection, Border Patrol's parent agency, after 9/11.

Corruption and excessive force have also skyrocketed along with the massive hiring surge. In fact, between 2005 and 2012, nearly one CBP officer was arrested for misconduct every single day—part of a pattern that Ronald Hosko, former assistant director of the FBI's criminal investigation division, calls "shocking."

Shocking, for sure. But nobody at the federal level has done anything to curb their attack dogs. If they had, public encounters with Border Patrol would be fewer, and far more pleasant. They'd more closely resemble the idealized situation below.

But pleasant encounters are few and far between with Border Patrol. Until they change their behavior, and their masters in D.C. alter the policies that enable such conduct, the best we can do is record our encounters, expose abuse, and remind the feds that they are widely despised by the people around them.